It was said that only the worse could deal with the bad. Though, the nikancha couldn't even make a bad guy; they were just wannabe crooks who paraded around the meek arrogantly, slowly pushing the limits of what courtesy they were given. But once it came to a real fight to the death, they'd kneel and beg for forgiveness.
Even though the nikancha ambassadors seemed confident enough to make demands for their oh-so-precious territories, they had learnt the extent of their capabilities and knew they wouldn't stand a chance against the Shiksan forces. Otherwise, they wouldn't have decided to let the theatre take the brunt of the hit for them.
The reason Skri and Bolonik were tempted was they hadn't been on the frontlines. No matter how terribly Claude and the other two described the nikancha troops, the former two didn't see it first hand and thought that no matter how bad they were, they were still at least helpful to the theatre.
The other reason was the nikancha lusted after the new rifles. They believed just handing over the two territories was a bad deal for them. They wanted at least something to show for it. Had a few of the ambassadors let the euphoria rush over their heads, they would've demanded ten thousand instead of three thousand.
Yet, Eiblont sought them out to tell them of the theatre's refusal and announced the cease of negotiations. He also emphasised that if they gave up on the defence lines at the eastern mountains, all the theatre's forces would retreat to the northern mountainous coasts. They were told that Claude advised them to enjoy what little time in the two to three months they had left, much to their shock.
The nikancha weren't stupid. They knew what Claude was alluding to and immediately made their move. That night itself, the ambassadors immediately brought housewarming gifts for Claude to congratulate him for his move. It was a set of crockery made from gold. However, the nikancha's craftsmanship still wasn't up to par, so they were rather thick and heavy.
Claude awkwardly received the large chest from the three ambassadors before berating them for their troops' performance unreservedly. He told them they had lost the theatre's trust completely, and that, as a result, their cooperation was being terminated.
Before Claude, the three ambassadors were on their best behaviour and humbly accepted his criticisms. However, they also told him about their troubles. Without enough young manpower, their tribes' survival was at stake. A single war had cost them 60 thousand men. They could not suffer so again.
Claude kicked the chest of gold crockery.
"I bet General Bolonik also has one of these, yes? Perhaps even larger?"
The ambassadors were completely silent.
Claude burst out laughing.
"I understand. Go home. When I receive a gift akin to General Bolonik's, I'll think of a way to help you avoid the war."
"But he's the field marshal," one ambassador said disgruntledly.
Claude shook his head.
"He's the acting field marshal. I'm in charge of all military affairs. What I say goes."
The ambassadors returned the next evening with another large chest of gold crockery.
Claude was quite appreciative of their sincerity. He smiled at the three and said, "Actually, we all know why you're trying to hand us the two mountainous territories. You want us to take the brunt of the Shiksan attack for you, right?
"But why would the theatre do that for you? We don't need these desolate mountains. Why should our troops defend your nation against the Shiksans while you enjoy your peaceful lives at the rear? Do you think we're daft?"
"T-those two territories have one gold mine and two silver mines..." the one with a braided beard argued.
"Hehe... Those are small mines! Would we really fight seven Shiksan corps for your sake just for three small mines? I think you're misunderstanding something, or, are you saying that's all the lives of our precious warriors is worth?"
He shook his head with a grave sigh. "Gentlemen, I've always been nothing but generous to your folk, but you've disappointed me time and again, whether it be on the battlefield or somewhere else. Let me be frank with you. If I really wanted your mines, I could easily take over the whole inland Shiksan colonies. There are nearly 60 mines there. Yet, I gave them to you without hesitation. I even split a third of our spoils to you.
"I've kept up my end of the bargain and let your tribesmen settle down in comfortable new homes after they were forced to leave the mountainous areas. But what did I get in return? Your betrayal. Don't tell me that didn't happen. Your youth warriors not only disobeyed our orders on the battlefield, they even tried to steal our new rifles. Our supplies were being lost time and again, and I'm sure we all know what happened to them.
"As the commander for the upcoming war, I have received a jointly signed letter from my subordinates to give up on the defence lines at the eastern mountain area and let the Shiksans wipe your nation out. Essentially, I am being asked to use you as bait for the Shiksans. Once they enter your territories, forget three small mines, all the mines in your nation will be ours to occupy once your nation is no more. By then, we'd have three to four more colonies, much more than the two small territories you're willing to offer us. So, gentlemen, tell me what kind of decision you would make if you were in my stead."
The three ambassadors' faces were completely pale from the shock. The bearded ambassador still tried to argue his position stubbornly. "O-our nation has five million p-people... Y-you w-wouldn't dare to conquer our nation. W-we, the nikancha, will never y-yield our nation to you! All our young and o-old will fight you to the end!"
"No, no, gentlemen, don't misunderstand--" Claude waved his hands with a smile. "--It won't have to come to that, because you'll be fighting the Shiksans next. As for what they would do, let me see... Well, perhaps they'd kill all your elderly and weak and enslave all the young men and women. Your territory now has more than enough mines for them to throw you in, after all.
"As for us, we'll wait until they conquer almost all of your territory first before attacking them from the rear to cut off their supply route. We'll trap all 400 thousand of their forces in your dominion before defeating them and avenging you guys. Then, your deaths wouldn't have been in vain. Worry not. We won't let the Shiksans who massacre your tribes off."
One ambassador immediately knelt before Claude and hugged his leg.
"General... General! You said yesterday that you had a way to help us avoid the war..."
Claude kicked his leg, but wasn't able to shake him off. His grip was too tight.
"I do have a way! Y-you! Let go and stand up!"
He only managed to pull him back up after much effort.
"I can tell you. This might just be the only way to save your people. Whether it'll work depends on you."
The three ambassadors were truly terrified. It was time to serve the main dish.
Claude turned to his desk to get a map of the nikancha nation and a charcoal pencil.
"You wanted to hand us the eastern mountain area and the northern mountainous coasts so we can take the brunt of the Shiksan attacks. However, you really didn't show any sincerity at all. Nobody would care about your measly land. You're trying to catch a big fish, but not willing to use a good bait at all. Do you think you even have a chance?
"Everyone knows what you're planning. Do you really think paying such a small price is enough for us to fight off 400 thousand Shiksans? You even demanded us to give you the new rifles? Did you know that's the kind of sleaziness that angered the strategists of our two corps? They all scrambled to gather signatures for a plan to exterminate the nikancha nation by simply waiting for the Shiksans to do the job for us while we reap the profit later.
"Even though I'm the main commander at the frontlines, General Bolonik wouldn't ignore the pleas of his subordinates as acting field marshal. I have no way of forcing our men to give their lives for those two measly territories. Additionally, anyone with half a brain would know who's getting the better end of the deal. So, if you really want us to fight the Shiksans, you better be ready to pay a huge price. Have you heard of the saying, 'fortune favours the bold, champions favour the gold'?"
The bearded man stammered, "G-general, be direct with us. What kind of p-price do you want us to pay to avoid this war?"
Claude drew a straight line on the map. The territories the nikancha were ready to give up looked like two rectangles at nearly ninety degrees to each other connected only at the very corner of one end. Claude drew a line so that those two areas were connected into a thick, '7' shape, flattening the border between Vebator and the inland colonies at the same time.
"You have to give the area in front of this line to us for General Birkin and I to convince our subordinates. Only such a substantial offer will motivate them enough to accept. So long as all the men are not sacrificed, you shall have peace."
He tapped on the part of the map beyond the line again. The ambassadors completely paled, as that new area alone was easily double that of the parts they were willing to give up. There were also many gold and silver mines in the area.
"General... I-isn't this a little too much?" the bearded ambassador said with a look of shock.
"Not at all. You really are short sighted. How is this much when compared to the rest of the land you occupy? It has just 14 gold and silver mines, and most are small. Compared to the rest of the 60 mines, six among which are large, the ones here aren't very rich either.
"Either way, only an area this big will be enough to convince our subordinates to fight the Shiksans willingly. By the way, we will also need you to give us lots of funding to motivate the soldiers that decide to take part.
"I've said that champions favour the gold. Without it, our men wouldn't have the courage to stand on the battlefield. All that's on their mind will be how they're fighting the Shiksans for your sake and will be far less willing to put up a fight. The moment they lose morale, they'll scramble and run just like your forces did. The end result of that will be just as bad for you.
"So, we need you to pay for the prize money. We aren't asking for much, only two million crowns. With that money and the territory, I can represent the theatre to make you a promise to stop all the Shiksans in their tracks at the defence line. They'll definitely not invade an inch of your nation."
The room fell silent; only the frantic breathing of the three ambassadors could be heard. None of them expected Claude to come up with those conditions. Not only did he want territory, he also wanted them to pay a sum that was by no means small. The two corps of the theatre only had around 100 thousand men. Was he going to give them 20 crowns each?
"G-general... Can it be less?" one ambassador asked in a hoarse voice.
"Less? What are you talking about? The territory or the funding?"
Claude sighed. "It's not a negotiation. Gentlemen, I wouldn't bother doing such a thing if not for your generous gifts here. In fact, if you follow what I've suggested, it'll cause me even more trouble, because now, I'll have to try to convince my subordinates and monitor them at the frontlines as they fight. I feel quite stressed about fighting 400 thousand Shiksans as well.
"I would rather you not take my words seriously at all. Go back, eat well and have all the fun you like. Your three months are running up anyway, so enjoy them while you still can. Spend more time with your family and don't cause us any trouble. Since you are considered to be friends of the theatre, I promise we'll eventually avenge you.
"It's getting late now. Get back to consider it carefully. Take the map back and tell them I came up with the demands on a whim or something, even though it's the bare minimum the theatre is willing to accept. I think you should just listen to my suggestion and enjoy life. If you don't want to die with your tribesmen, you can bring your family members to the theatre. I can arrange for you and your families to be sent to the colonies at the western coast. I heard there's many of your kin there too.